In Praise of the SIG P228 9mm

By G. Francis

The trend is sweeping large and small law enforcement agencies throughout the United States - the .40 caliber is totally in, while the 9mm is out. Local and State agencies in my Washington-Baltimore area either have switched or are switching to .40 caliber in droves. Even the FBI, which took a long wait-and-see, extensive test-and-evaluate approach, are now issuing 40-caliber GLOCK 22/23s to their new classes of special agents. US intelligence agencies and Service investigative units, however, have not made the switch to the .40. Neither has the Secret Service, BATF, nor State Department's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The SIG P228 9mm remains the quintessential "fed" gun with these and other agencies to include the Army Criminal Investigative Division (CID) and Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). This pistol remains my choice for domestic and overseas use. Here's why.

Ammo Availability

For most intelligence operations, the 9mm makes the greatest sense. When assigned to support military operations, there's a ready supply of NATO-spec 9mm issued for the Beretta M9. Yes, I know that it's a comparatively poor stopper versus .45 ball, but ammo must be available and very plentiful for both training and operational purposes. In Spec Ops circles, hollowpoint ammo is available for counter-terrorism missions, which greatly enhances the 9mm effectiveness. The primary weapon for the DSS, BATF and often FBI agents is the SIG P228. When assigned to support diplomatic or investigative missions abroad, I know that my pistol, magazines and ammunition are interchangeable with theirs. This is significant should the need arise to use someone else's gear, or they use mine.


The SIG P228 is supremely reliable out of the box. Its reliability can only be matched by the P226 and arguably bested by the Beretta 92. These points are critical for several reasons. Weapons are often issued at overseas departure or destination points. This means that it may not be my personal P228 on which I'm relying. As my primary weapon, it must be totally reliable in all extreme conditions. Any maintained P228 is this in spades.


The best duty pistol is also extremely accurate. Stress under physical exhaustion or combat duress plays havoc with your shooting ability. I want the most accurate pistol possible to maximize hit potential under these extreme conditions. This is especially important when operating in an environment that contains hostile and non-hostile targets. A surgical shot may be needed to take out single or multiple threats, without hitting fellow operatives or innocent bystanders. It is also critical when facing a battle rifle-equipped hostile. Every SIG P228 I've shot is accurate enough to reach out and touch a target to 100 yards with confidence. This can't be said for many other popular pistols. The only popular service pistol that beats the P228 for accuracy out of the box is the SIG P226. Table One provides accuracy figures for my own stock P228 with a wide assortment of ball and hollowpoint ammo. Note the total average hand held five-shot group size at 25 yards: it's 2.80 inches. Conventional hollowpoint ammo, which included everything from +P+ 115 to 147-grain subsonic, averaged an excellent 2.60 inches!


Capacity counts when a pistol is the only weapon between you and a large group of machete-wielding third-worlders. The P228 holds twice the ammo of the venerable 1911. Add two spare magazines and you've got 40 rounds on tap. I'll usually add a 20-round mag if things are looking especially dicey. I certainly don't spray and pray, but find the high capacity pistol a better choice for these type encounters.


The SIG P228 also features some of the best ergonomics of any pistol ever produced. The double column grip is comfortable for my medium-size hand, and I find the pistol points naturally and immediately to target. The double action trigger is the best in the business and if, as some female associates with smaller hands find, too long to reach comfortably, a SIG factory short trigger is available. The single action is outstanding - clean and moderately weighted (mine is 5.5 lbs.). My only complaint is a light trigger-return spring, which when not fully acclimated to the weapon, can cause the shooter to slap at the trigger while trying to perform fast follow-up shots.

Some details that need attention are the soft metal used in the grip screws, and the tendency for these screws to come loose if not extremely well-tightened. Fixes to these shortcomings are: use an exact-fit screwdriver when loosening or tightening the screws, replace the grip screws with hexhead grip bolts or use a Hogue or Pachmayer slip-on grip to secure the grip panels. The SIG standard matte finish is not very wear or corrosion resistant. The SIG factory K Kote or aftermarket Teflon finish such as Birdsong Black-T will serve in harsh conditions.

The pistol possesses few sharp edges, the only ones being at the tips of the front of the slide. These aren't a problem for shooting, but the sharp points can tear at the inside of finely boned holsters such as Alessi, Mitch Rosen's or Andy Arratoonian's Horseshoe products and can sometimes cause a rough reholster with these excellent rigs. The gun conceals very well in a quality external or IWB holster. Factory sights are among the best in the business; extremely durable, low profile, posessing a fairly wide rear notch mated to a highly visable front sight.

How It Shoots

Recoil is near-negligible with the P228. The 9mm is a much more easily controlled round compared to either the .40 cal or .45. I can fire fourteen rounds in under five seconds and hit a man-sized target at fifty feet with ease. Table Two [omitted] provides the results of a recent outdoor range session with the P228. These basic drills combine drawing and firing speed with the need to engage both near and long range targets. Results were good; the credit going to the superlative design of the pistol. Blame my somewhat slow times on a new, tightly fitted, Horseshoe SOB holster (excellent rig; worn toward hip side) and my unfamiliarity with the different angle of draw.

Bottom line - if you are a federal agent, intelligence operative, law enforcement officer or civilian possessing a SIG P228, don't feel shortchanged or undergunned. You're carrying one of the best pistols made. World-class reliable, accurate, ergonomic and easily controllable, you can't get much better. Stick with it, practice often and with realism, and know that this gun will hold up its end of the bargain when you need it to.

first published in the April 1999 edition of Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement

P228 Specifications
Operation Semiautomatic, mechanically
locked, recoil operated
Trigger Double-action/single-action
or double-action only
Safety Patented automatic firing-pin lock
Caliber 9mm Luger
Length, overall 7.1"
Height, overall 5.4"
Width, overall 1.5"
Barrel length 3.9"
Rifling twist 1 in 10"
Rifling grooves 6
Sight radius 5.7"
Weight, w/o magazine 26.1 oz.
Weight, empty magazine 3.0 oz.
Trigger pull DA 12 lbs., SA 4.5 lbs.
Magazine capacity 13 rounds